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Kate Hall's poetry, stories and nonfiction have appeared in such publications as The Antioch Review, Rattle, Perihelion, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, The Brooklyn Rail, The Mississippi Review, 5_Trope, and Stirring where she served as a poetry editor. She received the Robert Frost Poetry Prize while a senior at Kenyon College, holds a JD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and lives in Brooklyn. You may contact Kate via MySpace

My Mother Sees Me

I twist in her hand like a wrist because I am twelve and my bones are young and fickle. She is turning me around to find out what it is my father sees in me because she is thirty six and jealous. I should not know what this is about, but I do, my veins pulsing to life because he loves me, I am his favorite woman in the house, the one who makes his dinner and is lying on his bed when he gets home. “Look how you linger there, by the window,” my mother says because I have waited the whole day for him to come, over by the square window where I will spend the rest of my life, going back and back to this moment, not being able to see past it with its bright sun and kaleidoscope splitting apart my life.

A History of Addiction

I'm touching Sarah in the back room because my mother is making dinner and she doesn't know I like girls. There's a history of addiction in this house and I'm on my fifth step so I'm in the middle of telling Sarah something about morality when my mother doesn't even knock "What's she doing?" she asks, because Sarah is tilted over in the paisley chair I hate and, if you didn't know, you might not recognize her ecstasy.

The next girl I bring up to my room and I've got her facedown on the bed, hands tied together with rope, when my mother remembers to knock at the door. "I'm busy," I'm saying when she barges in, looks at the girl and says, " Your father used to do that to me." "Did you like it?" I ask, because I'm curious even more than I'm terrified, and she says, " That wasn't the point."

The next night at dinner, my mother tells my father I've got something to share with him. She's sloshing her wine around like mouthwash, and when she smiles over at me to begin, her teeth are stained the purple of old women's legs. "I'm turning this over to my higher power," I say, and my dad, who thinks it's great that I'm in AA, laughs. My mom, who has a graduate degree and is the smarter of the two, knows I'm using God as a stalling tactic. "I caught her with her hands in a girl," my mother, not quite accurate. And then, " Remember how you used to tie me up and pretend to rape me?" My father is searching for the Big Dipper on his plate and I have disassociated myself into a dot. "Well, don't you?" she asks, because she has never let one thing go. "I thought this was about her," in a successful attempt to deflect the spotlight. "That's right - we were about to discuss the mating habits of daughters." Everything my mother says sounds like a book title. "I'm going to my room," I say, with a flurry of chair and arms.

I can hear my parents talking and washing dishes from my room. I know what is coming. My father, flushed with embarrassment, clutching a pile of magazines. He sits next to me on the bed. We have not touched in years, and we are not touching now. He begins to open the magazines. There is Playboy, and there is Penthouse. When he is through, they are spread open on the flowered bedspread. "They have staples in the middle, like your mother," he says. I lean in to look at the woman closest to where I am sitting. She has long, blonde hair and the place where her left nipple should be has been worn away. I can hear a mosquito buzzing somewhere between where I am and where my father is. " Is she your favorite?" I ask, and he looks to where I am pointing. "They are all the same." I imagine my father, blindfolded and at an orgy. People are swinging their arms at him like a piñata. My mother knocks at the door. "Are you two all right in there?" "We're fine," my father, his head bleeding from where he has killed the mosquito. He waves his finger in front of my eye. It is there, small and black. "This is how a woman looks," he says.

The door opens. My mother, her bathrobe slightly open. If I squint, I can see the outline of her pubic hair. "He was an offering," she says, gesturing toward my father, "to get you over girls." I can tell she has been drinking. My father wipes his hand against the wall. In between her alcohol and his violence, you will find me. "He says you look like the women in the magazines," I am finding my voice. "They are fat whores," she says. "They do not even look at him." I attempt to escape through the window. "You are ours," my mother says, and my father has lassoed me with the rope. They tie me to my childhood chair. My knees knock against the desk. I can hear them making coffee in the kitchen.

The Lecture on Infinity

My husband is giving lectures on infinity in our basement. It’s part of the reason I didn’t want to live with him. When an hour or so has passed, I go down there with a tray of cheese and crackers. “Most of us are vegan,” says a girl in the front row. Her hair, which has been tied up in little knots, is greasy. “Margie is making a gesture,” my husband says in the general direction of the girl, and I wonder what makes him think he can get her to understand. “She could have asked.” The girl is looking at something in her lap. “Just set it down over here.” My husband is pointing to the top of an antique dresser we are saving for when we have children. “Think about how little the clothes will be,” I remember him saying the morning we’d stayed home from work to wait for the delivery. I can feel the girl’s eyes following me as I turn around and walk up the stairs.

When another hour has passed and they’re still not through, I bring down a tray of finger sandwiches. They are filled with vegetables we grew in our garden. “Some of us are allergic to wheat,” the greasy girl says when she sees what I am holding. I imagine her so bloated she takes up two of the chairs we have arranged in a semicircle in the basement. “Maybe Margie will make you some wheat-free cookies if you ask nicely,” my husband says, again directing his comment near where the girl was sitting. She has gotten up from her chair and gone over to the cheese and crackers. She puts a piece of the cheese I have already sliced on top of one of the crackers, and puts it in her mouth. She repeats this process a few more times and then she begins shoving the remainder of the cheese and crackers into her mouth, not even bothering to arrange them first. My instinct is to turn and run, but I am glued to this girl who has is leaning over the dresser, her mouth open wide like a fish. My husband moves toward her with a trash can, but he is too late. I have taught him enough about antiques to know the vomit will eat away at the dresser, but he is too caught up in what the girl is doing to address that issue. She is headed toward the tray I am holding in both hands now, and she is stuffing the sandwiches into her mouth. The rest of the kids are staring at her and they look happy they didn’t miss today’s class.

The girl seems to favor the dresser because she back at that end of the room throwing up, and I cannot help it, I am unable to move. My husband is playing musical chairs again with the trash can, and again, he misses. When she is through getting sick, the girl clears her throat. It is clear she has an announcement of some sort to make. “This,” she says, standing on one of the empty chairs, “is what happens when you go around making thoughtless gestures.” I know the comment is directed at me, and I know that I should be angry, but I am in awe of this girl, her skirt hiked up so that her underwear are showing, a few strands of hair that have come loose hanging in front of her eyes. “I think that’s it for today,” my husband says, and the kids are beginning to gather their things. “Wait,” I say, more loudly than I’d meant to, and they are all turned around looking at me. “What about infinity?” I ask, and you can tell my husband is not happy with me. “The lecture is unending,” he says, motioning to the students that class is over.

When the last of the students has left and it is just my husband and me, he comes over to where I am standing in the kitchen. “Thanks for putting up with that,” he says, and I can tell he intends that to be the extent of the discussion. There is so much I want to ask him, about the girl, about the lecture, about whether he views me as being weak. Instead, I smile at him, tell him I am going to stop by the store before dinner. Had I learned anything from the scene in the basement, I would pull myself up so I was standing on one of the kitchen chairs, tell him I was boycotting dinner. “Your girlfriend ate it,” I would say, undoing my hair so that it was in front of my face and you could not tell that I was crying.

Copyright © 2007 Kate Hall